The world is full of bad advice: "pack your favorite leggings in your hospital bag," "get yourself some bee-sting therapy," "vote for Jill Stein!" This is especially true of pregnancy and postpartum, when the bad advice just comes flooding in. And it's not always the other person's fault — sometimes, good advice for one person is going to be a disaster for another. But certain pieces of advice are just universally and forever total nonsense, like the laughable piece of advice we give moms who want to breastfeed about sandpapering their nipples to "toughen them up" before their baby is born. Hard no.
For those of you who have gone through life blissfully unaware that this is, in fact, advice that is given to pregnant women, allow me to shatter your cozy little cocoon of mental serenity. Generally, this is suggested to pregnant women by older women and the prescribed method is "scrub your nipples really hard with a damp washcloth," though specifics can vary. But it always involves beating up your poor nipples which, p.s., are more sensitive when you're pregnant because of all the extra blood and hormones.
Guys? Can we have a group huddle for a second? What absolute sadist came up with this?
Look, bad ideas exist on a spectrum. Some are bad on a case-by-case basis — for example, lanolin is fantastic way to soothe aching nipples... but since it comes from sheep, not so for someone who is allergic to wool. Some ideas are well-meaning but bad because of misinformation (see: that old chestnut of putting rice cereal in a baby's bottle right away so that they sleep longer. That used to be just what you did). Over time, new, better advice replaces the old and shoddy. But then there's *waves hands in the general direction of "toughening up your nipples" because I have no words.* This is truly in a world of its own.
If the point is to avoid painful breastfeeding... you're not, you're just creating another flavor of pain earlier and, spoilers folks: it's really not going to make breastfeeding hurt any less. Breastfeeding is what it is and sometimes, particularly early on, it can be bit painful as you and your baby (who is completely clueless, by the way) get the hang of things. Moreover? The sensation of a baby clamping down on the better part of your areola is a completely different than flagellating your nips with a wet washcloth... unless your child's tongue has the texture of a cat's, in which case painful breastfeeding is the absolute least of your problems. So, effectively, you're really just hurting yourself twice as much, but differently.
What works for some people won't work for others #RememberTheSpectrumOfBadIdeas.
A Freudian analysis of the prevalence of this bizarre bad take might suggest it's rooted in a deep loathing of women and the idea that motherhood should be conflated with pain and suffering... but that's none of my business *sips tea*.
Look, the good news is that we have a lot of really great advice that we know leads to better breastfeeding outcomes for those who want to go for it. The even better news is that basically none of that has to happen before the baby is born. (You have enough preparing to do — that crib isn't going to assemble itself.) Here are the biggest things to do in preparation for breastfeeding before give birth: first decide whether or not you want to. Remember, there's no law that says you have to feed a baby any particular way. Bottle or breast, as long as your little one is getting the nutrients they need, you're winning at life and parenthood.
Second, read up on the subject a bit and/or ask moms who did breastfeed for their advice. Of course, remember to take that advice with a grain of salt, since what works for some people won't work for others #RememberTheSpectrumOfBadIdeas.
Next, make a plan with your care provider for how you want things to go after birth (we'll talk more about that in a minute) and lastly secure your gear. Ultimately, all you need to breastfeed is a baby, mammary glands, and nipples, but there are items that can help you along the way. Things like a breast pump (if you have insurance it should be covered), nursing bras, a nursing pillow, and, yes, a supply of soothing nipple cream will probably help you out as you get started. That's about it. I know it takes up a whole paragraph but, honestly, it's not terribly extensive prep. And the best part: absolutely no nipple torture required! The heavy lifting will come after your baby is born and, even then, no (self-inflicted) nipple abuse will be involved.
So what things can you do after delivery? It would behoove you to hit the ground running: early and frequent nursing and skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby helps your body realize "Oh! Baby's here! Time to lactate!" (Fun fact: you won't strictly speaking lactate right away — for the first few days, your body will produce colostrum, a thick, calorie rich, yellow substance that will eventually give way to milk.) If you can manage to do this right away, like within the first hour, all the better! If you can't — and there are a number of scenarios that might prevent this — don't worry! You haven't destroyed your chances of breastfeeding.
'But wait,' you may say. 'What about my nipples?! I've done nothing to prepare my nipples for breastfeeding!'
It will also help to nurse on demand, at least in the early days, to kick things into gear. This can be made easier by keeping your baby in your room with you — many hospitals, in fact, are now encouraging this practice. However, it's important to bear in mind that grain of salt I keep talking about: if keeping the baby in your room is the source of more stress than convenience then it's not working. (In other words, letting your little one be cuddled by staff in the hospital nursery for a while while you nap, rest, or just binge on a Housewives marathon for a bit as you recovery can be just as valuable in terms of mom-and-baby wellness as constant contact.) You're going to have to find your own center of gravity, as it were, and you will!
There are also experts you can turn to: ask your birth facility if there is a lactation consultant you can meet with. Many — though sadly not all — hospitals will actually send one to your room as a matter of course to see if you're interested or have questions. More still will have somebody you can request.
The last three things you can do to help your efforts are the most fun: rest, fluids, and good food. Your body needs all of these things to be able to produce milk and you'll be more effective at breastfeeding if you're not hangry and exhausted.
And yes, all this advice is free from me to you!
"But wait," you may say. "What about my nipples?! I've done nothing to prepare my nipples for breastfeeding!"
Pssst: you don't have to. Your body is doing a great job to prepare you to feed your baby once they arrive, and your baby will handle the nipples. Leave it up to the true experts.